Monday, July 19, 2010

A Horrockses Mistake

When we last left off, my mojo was AWOL and I was obsessed with making a Horrockses-inspired dress. Pretty soon after, my work mojo returned, and my sewing mojo wandered back into my sewing room a/k/a the whole downstairs of my house! I then started plotting my Horrockses masterpiece which soon became my Horrockses mistake as a result of my misguided fabric choice. I started off pretty well; I chose a 1940's retro fabric with a striped motif that seemed to be a Horrockses staple. I bought all my LQS had - 5 3/4 yards and I decided to use all 5 3/4 yards on the cross-grain to create a full skirt, and use the part I lopped off for the skirt length for the sundress bodice. My mother said, "Won't those horizontal stripes make you look fat?" Oh, of course not, I thought, I'm not fat, it will be fine. Well, I was so wrong:Note that I am not modeling the dress and you only get to see this baby on a hanger, partially constructed. I got the straps pinned in place and tried it on and I looked wide as the Mississippi. You could no more get me photographed in this dress for all the world to see than you could get me to pole dance. Oh. My. God. It wasn't just the horizontal red and white stripes that made it go wrong, it was also the quilting fabric that was way too stiff for the style I had in mind. I really needed a soft, drapey cotton or rayon blend for what I was going for. I don't usually made this mistake - I'm usually pretty good about matching up a pattern with the appropriate fabric choice. I blame the anesthesia.
I learned a few things though in making this dress. I learned that gathering 5 3/4 yards of fabric requires hand basting, rather than machine basting. Trust me, it takes longer but in the long run it is easier to gather and control those gathers. And of course, I re-learned that you are never to old to make mistakes!
This whole experience made me do something I don't normally do: I went shopping for a dress. I just wanted a summer dress and I was out of energy to sew it. But of course you know what I found: cheaply made dresses that cost too much. I found one dress where I liked the style and the color, but it was crap. And still cost $ 70. That drove me back to looking at patterns and I found Simplicity 2360 which approximated the style of the crapily made dress. In addition, I saw a Ralph Lauren ad in a magazine of a dress that I wanted in a way that wasn't rational:
I can't find this dress for sale because you have to actually go to a Ralph Lauren store to find out if they will deign to let you buy it. I can't find a price on it either because if you have to ask, you can't afford it. I assume it is in the $ 500 to $ 700 price range as it is in their spring 2010 collection. And I assure you that I wouldn't pay that kind of money for a dress unless I was getting married in it.
So I am using the Ralph Lauen dress as inspiration, and I am combining it with the Simplicity pattern 2360 to come up with a summer dress. I ordered some wonderful pink Kaffe Fassett rayon fabric, but I decided to be smart about this and made a hopefully wearable muslin of this brand new pattern. I used a blue flowered rayon challis I had in my stash for several years. It was cheap, and I bought a lot of it, and made a summer dress out of half of it about six years ago. I was extra sensitive to the fact that this pattern requires very drapey fabric after the Horrockses disaster and rayon challis definitely fits the bill. I got this dress done last night and wore it to work today and Aimee took a photo:
I swear this dress is more flattering in real life than in this photo and I really like it. I like the lace, and the sash is from the prior 6 year old dress. The waist is elastic, and I've never made a dress with an elastic waist before. It was nice not having to put in a zipper. When I make this again in the pink fabric, I think I will made the elastic tighter, bringing in the waist more, and I'll make the version with short sleeves. I'll also take some of the flare out of the skirt, making it straighter and less A-line. This dress has a 30's aura about it, and without the sash, it is as comfortable as a nightgown. I'm looking forward to using the Kaffe Fassett fabric - it's rayon, but a tighter weave - no more challis for me for a while! Working with challis is like working with silk: a PITA to deal with, but lovely to wear.
Parting Shot: Also to soothe my weary soul, I made another feedsack skirt because I knew it would work. I like this one because the colors are so cheerful:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Has Anyone Seen My Mojo?????

I had surgery on June 18th (nothing dire) and I can't believe how wiped out I have been ever since. So many thing are beyond my energy level: working, sewing, blogging, emailing, or reading. For a while there, I was concerned that my blackout on communication or any other human interaction was a symptom of laziness or selfishness or both, but now that I am coming out of my funk, I finally realized: I am profoundly exhausted. I didn't get it until now; sort of like you don't realize how bad a relationship is until you get out of it and then you look back and say to yourself, "Wow. That really sucked."

And because I have felt like hammered sh*t, I haven't sewed a stitch since VickiW's quilting birthday extravaganza. Until today. I made Mother some eyeglass cases, which I made in the simplest way possible:

Kinda pitiful, aren't they? I even used an old placemat I made years ago, so I didn't even have to fool with quilting some fabrics together. I just cut the placemat into 5.5 by 6.5 inch pieces, folded them lenghwise, sewed one side and the bottom, and turned them inside out. That was about all I could manage, and she is happy with them.

Fortunately, during my convalescence I had a book Anne got me for my birthday from the Victoria & Albert Museum during her last trip to our London office. Here's a link to the book. I poured over it for hours:
Horrockses Fashions made the-have-to-have dresses in Great Britain from 1946 to the late 50's and they are just my style. (No, I don't know how to pronounce "Horrockses" either.) When Mother and I were in London last August, we saw one of the Horrockses dresses in the V&A and she took a photo:

This is a pretty typical Horrockses dress. Bright, clear colors of all cotton, with a simple fitted bodice and a full skirt. They were all the rage in Great Britain post WWII and everyone wore them, from Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) right down to the office girls who saved their shillings to buy just one. While they weren't horribly expensive, post-war Britain was pretty austere, and for a young lady who worked as a teacher or nurse, they were seen as well worth scrimping for.
The book itself isn't particularly well written, and the author focuses mostly on the Horrockses' business model and marketing techniques, repeating herself often. The best part of the book for me were the photos showing the dresses and the young women wearing them, clearly thrilled with their acquisitions. Horrockses had it's own cotton mill that produced the fabric, and some girls who couldn't afford to buy the dresses bought the fabric and then sewed their own, like Beth Hartley who provided a photo for the book taken in 1955 that shows her wearing her handmade rendition of a Horrockses dress, and she says that every time she wore it, she thought she was the "bees knees". : )
I would have preferred more information on the dresses themselves: how were they constructed, what sewing techniques were used that gave Horrockses their reputation for a quality product, and how many yards of fabric were used for those skirts?
A lot of the dresses were sundresses or strapless dresses paired with a bolero jacket. Here is a typical dress from the book:
You can see that the insert photo is the same dress that Mother took the photo of in the V&A.
Here's another. A lot of the fabrics used had a stripe motif:

The one thing I was able to do while I laid in bed was imagine my own Horrockses dress, surfing the web incessantly looking for the perfect fabric. I've decided to make a sundress, using the bodice from a pattern I have used several times before, and pair it with an impossibly voluminous skirt, which will require gathering yards and yards of fabric. Whether I can attach such a skirt to a bodice with a 28 inch waist remains to be seen. And I have a bolero pattern from a vintage Advance pattern I have used before (but I only made the dress, not the bolero). And I finally found a vintage inspired fabric from Windham Fabrics that I think will work! But when this will all actually happen is dependent on that missing mojo. If you happen to see it, send it my way.